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Backdrop Western Town Scene of New Epic, 'Battle of Oak Creek Bridge' : Arizona: Sedona-area residents up in arms over proposed highway through Red Rock Crossing.

May 21, 1995|WILLIAM F. RAWSON | ASSOCIATED PRESS

It's one of the most photographed spots in Arizona, backdrop of dozens of Western movies and subject of countless postcards.

Now nearby residents fear Red Rock Crossing outside Sedona is about to fall victim to encroaching development and construction of a road and bridge they say is both unnecessary and unwanted.

"This is all about big, big development," said Bennie Blake, one of the project's opponents. "This is the largest expanse of undeveloped land in the Sedona area."

"That's simply not true," said Yavapai County Supervisor Carlton Camp. "They would like you to believe that, but there are no development plans I know about."

The picturesque crossing, with Cathedral Rock looming over the gurgling waters of Oak Creek, is about four miles south of Sedona. There is some residential development, but the area remains generally unspoiled, said Raena Honan, a lobbyist for the Sierra Club.

"The road dead-ends at a small parking lot and visitors' center," she said. "It's very quiet, very pastoral. If you didn't know it was there, you probably couldn't find it."

The crossing has been used in parts of dozens of movies, including "Broken Arrow" with James Stewart, Robert DeNiro's "Midnight Run" and Kenny Rogers' TV movie "The Gambler."

Camp said the bridge is needed to tie together roads on either side of the creek and provide additional access from the Village of Oak Creek to Sedona. The village lies south of Sedona on Arizona Highway 179. To get to the western part of Sedona from the village, motorists must travel to the busy intersection of 179 and U.S. 89A and double back along 89A.

The proposed project, including the bridge and six miles of new pavement, would allow drivers to cut across the creek from the village and reach the west end of Sedona. Both existing highways are congested and dangerous and the new road would relieve some of the pressure on them, he said.

"As the village develops, there will be more and more pressure for this," Camp said.

The bridge, which was first proposed more than 10 years ago, has polarized residents. The dispute will come to a head Monday when the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors decides whether to proceed with the project, Camp said.

The county was granted an easement for a bridge by the U.S. Forest Service in 1983 in an area where there historically had been a ford-type crossing, Camp said. The easement stipulated that if no bridge were built within five years, it could be revoked.

David Baron, a lawyer with the Center for Law in the Public Interest, wrote the Forest Service on behalf of the Sierra Club in June, 1993, asking that the easement be rescinded, but the Forest Service refused.

F. Dale Robertson, then the Forest Service chief, replied in a letter to Baron that there was no need to rescind the easement because no structure could be built without prior approval by his agency.

"If a proposal is received, an appropriately documented environmental analysis, with public participation, will be required," Robertson said. "Analysis of appropriate feasible alternatives, including the 'no action' alternative, will be required."

Blake said the easement is about 370 feet downstream from the old crossing, a ford that was build by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s and was washed out by a flood in 1978.

The new site "comes up against private property and they will have to condemn property on both sides of the creek," she said.

Camp discounted the opposition to the bridge as "a lot of environmental hype."

"They think it's a holy place or something," he said.

Blake said she expects the county board to approve construction of the bridge, and predicted that would be only the beginning of the real fight.

She said that several groups already are looking into the possibility of seeking an injunction if the bridge is approved and that Sierra Club lawyers would monitor the development of an environmental impact statement, which federal law would require because the crossing is on Forest Service land.

"There will be appeals and there will be a lawsuit," she said.

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